WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush signed a bill on Friday providing $100 billion to pay for the Iraq war but congressional Democrats who failed to impose a troop withdrawal deadline said their fight was far from over.
Passage of the emergency spending legislation capped a four-month struggle between Bush and a new Democratic-controlled Congress determined to force him to shift course in the unpopular war.
Bush had vetoed an earlier bill that would have required him to begin withdrawing soldiers from Iraq by October 1, and he had vowed to kill any legislation carrying restrictions on troop deployments.
With Democrats lacking the votes to override the president and the war funds running out, a divided Congress passed a compromise measure on Thursday.
“We’ve got a good bill that doesn’t have timetables or tell the military how to do its job but also sent a clear signal to the Iraqis that there’s expectations here in America .... about how to move forward,” Bush said after visiting wounded military personnel at a naval hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.
He signed the bill in private later on Friday at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, where he planned to spend a long weekend for the Memorial Day holiday honoring America’s war dead.
The legislation gives Bush the funds he sought without any requirement that he bring troops home, but it does set a series of “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government to meet and ties a small amount of non-military U.S. aid to achieving progress.
Despite losing the latest round to Bush, Democrats vowed to keep up their efforts to force him to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.
Slammed by U.S. anti-war groups for allowing the bill to pass, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would quickly resume their drive to impose deadlines for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq.
She said she would put on the House agenda a bill to repeal Congress’ 2002 authorization of the Iraq war and said Democrats would use next year’s military spending bills to try to end the war that has killed at least 3,420 U.S. soldiers and wounded more than 34,000. Iraqis have suffered far worse casualties.
Democrats won control of Congress in November’s midterm elections, propelled by public disenchantment with the war.
According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, 76 percent of Americans believe the war is going somewhat or very badly for the United States and only 20 percent said Bush’s recent troop increase is making a positive difference.
Some key Republicans are also beginning to talk about the possible need for a change in direction within a few months.
Bush has made clear that September will be an important period, when the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, will report on the impact of the troop buildup and make a recommendation on how to proceed.